Bumblebees and flowers, new research

This video is called Bombus terrestris (buff-tailed bumblebee) autumn nest.

From Scientific American in the USA:

Bumblebees Quickly Learn Best Paths to Sweet Flowers

By Katherine Harmon | September 20, 2012

Bumblebees, it turns out, don’t bumble. Using tiny radar tracking devices, motion-activated cameras and artificial flowers, scientists have learned how the bees themselves quickly learn the best routes to take when they go foraging from flower to flower. In fact, their cognitive competence in this area seems to match that of bigger-brained animals.

A team of researchers from Queen Mary University of London outfitted a colony of buff-tailed bumblebees (Bombus terrestris) with miniscule harmonic radio sensors and plastic number tags. They trained the bees to feed on artificial flowers that offered a perch and a sugar solution in the center. The colony’s nest box, positioned in a large field on a British estate, was then situated near five of these artificial flowers. The flowers were arranged in a pentagon shape, with each one 50 meters from the next, which is many times the distance a bumblebee can see. That arrangement prevented the subjects from following each other or spotting the next flower. The “flowers” were watched by motion-sensing video cameras to capture each bee’s feeding. The researchers also chose to complete the experiment in October, when local flowers would have faded and not tempt the bees away from the experimental ones.

“Initially, their routes were long and complex, revisiting empty flowers several times,” Mathieu Lihoreau, of the university’s School of Biological and Chemical Sciences and co-author on the study, said in a prepared statement. “But, as they gained experience, the bees gradually refined their routes.” And they did so quickly. After only an average of 26 outings, the bees had tried only about 20 of the 120 different possible foraging routes—and reduced their total flight distance by roughly 80 percent.

Previous studies had shown similar learning curves in smaller areas [in] the laboratory, but this was the first to demonstrate it in a more realistic scale the wild. The bees in this wild-scenario actually outperformed their lab counterparts, who only improved to about 75 percent of the optimal feeding flight. The findings were published online September 20 in PLoS Biology.

See also here. And here. And here.

Bumblebees do best where there is less pavement and more floral diversity: here.

9 thoughts on “Bumblebees and flowers, new research

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